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Survey reveals criminal records aren’t deal-breakers

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A majority of employers who responded to a recently released survey are screening candidates in a conscientious manner, auditing providers and educating themselves on legal-compliance issues.

The survey report, Employment Screening Practices and Trends: The Era of Heightened Care and Diligence, was conducted by EmployeeScreenIQ, a background-screening-services provider accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.

The report tracks employers’ attitudes and actions regarding the impact of criminal records on hiring, the use of social networking in the screening process, the implications of new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance and the practice of asking candidates to disclose criminal records.

“The overarching takeaway from this survey is that employers seem to be screening and hiring candidates in a responsible, acceptable and legally compliant fashion,” said Nick Fishman, chief marketing officer at EmployeeScreenIQ, in a press release. “While this heightened level of care and diligence is partially due to the amplified risk of lawsuits, there are other factors at work, including the negative impact on morale and performance, the loss of reputation and the damage done to the employment brand when ineffective screening practices let poor candidates through the door.”

A total of 992 individuals representing a range of U.S.-based employers completed the survey, which was fielded from December 2012 through January 2013.

Respondents use a variety of national and regional firms to conduct their background checks. About one-third are EmployeeScreenIQ clients.

Top findings include:

• The vast majority of respondents said their job candidates’ background checks rarely come back with criminal convictions. Specifically, 59% said criminal convictions are reported on 5% or less of their background checks, and 14% said convictions are reported on 6% to 10% of their checks.

• The survey found that criminal records aren’t deal-breakers. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that in a mere 5% or less of cases, candidates with criminal records are not hired for this reason. Only 3% of respondents disqualify candidates with criminal records 20% of the time or more. “This finding strongly supports employers’ long-standing assertions that they look beyond an applicant’s criminal past and that qualifications, references and interviewing skills are ultimately more important,” said Fishman.

• Criminal records that gave respondents the greatest concern were felony convictions related to violent crimes (85%), and theft and dishonesty (84%).

• Nearly half (46%) of respondents go beyond seven years in their criminal background checks.

• Sixty-eight percent said their organizations have reviewed the EEOC guidance on the consideration of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions released in April 2012. Thirty-two percent aren’t familiar with or aren’t reviewing the EEOC’s guidance.

Of those who have reviewed the guidance, slightly more than half have not made changes to their business’ screening policies as a result of it, while slightly less than half have done so.

“We would strongly encourage employers to familiarize themselves with the new guidance and evaluate their organizations’ policies and practices,” said Fishman.

• A large percentage of employers are disregarding the EEOC’s guidance on “banning the box,” a reference to eliminating the inquiry into criminal histories on employment applications.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents are continuing to ask for self-disclosure on applications despite EEOC guidance recommending that employers not ask candidates about convictions on these forms. Nine percent do not ask candidates for self-disclosure.

“As employers search for qualified talent, they will have to continue to balance fair treatment of candidates against their own need to make informed hiring decisions,” said Fishman.

• Fifty-two percent said they would actually be more inclined to hire a candidate who disclosed a criminal conviction before a background check, but 40% said self-disclosure makes no difference in their hiring decision.

Employers stated that they take several factors concerning criminal convictions into account when making their hiring decisions, including the severity of the conviction, the age of the conviction, and how closely related the conviction was to the job being applied for.  

• A majority of respondents (61%) are performing an individualized assessment before denying employment based on a criminal record. Individualized assessments, a major factor in the 2012 EEOC guidance, require employers to ensure that a person is being excluded from a position based on his or her criminal history only if that history relates to the job requirements or business necessity. The agency is sharply focused on enforcing this aspect of the rule.

• Nearly two-thirds of all respondents (64%) indicated that their organization either already uses an applicant tracking system or is considering it; yet just 21% have actually integrated their screening program into their platform. Only 26% of respondents said their company does not use or plan to use an applicant tracking system.

• A combined 68% of all respondents audit their screening providers sometime during the relationship. Thirty-six percent do so regularly, but 32% never audit their screening providers.

“This is a practice that can potentially put organizations at risk,” Fishman cautioned. “Employers should do everything they can, including conducting regular audits, to make certain that their screening partners uphold the highest possible standards.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

©2013 SHRM. All rights reserved. 

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